If you aren't interested in a group guided tour, you can still travel with a guide on your own. A number of tour operators will fix you up with a private guide or guides for the duration of your trip. Your tour could either be customized to your liking, or you could choose one of the standard itineraries offered by the operator, so that you don't have to think about where to stay, how long to be gone, when to fly, or any other travel logistics. Private guided tours are, of course, typically more expensive than group tours, but you never have to worry about getting lost in the crowd.
A private guided tour can prove to be one of your most memorable and satisfying travel experiences. You – or your smallish group of family and friends – have the use of your own guide(s) to introduce you to and immerse you in far-off locales and cultures that you might not feel comfortable navigating on your own.
A good private tour company and guide should confer with you and your companions as to your preferences on what to see and do, what your energy level is, and how much free rein you’d like during the trip. On a private guided tour, you aren’t just one member of a group, but the star of the show.
Most tour agencies that offer private guided tours are eager to work with you in pre-planning trips according to your individual preferences. For instance, if you and your family have always wanted to see the Great Migration of wildebeest in Tanzania’s Serengeti, they’ll work to make it happen. If you’re traveling with young children, they’ll take that into account.
But it’s fine, too, to say, “I’ve heard about river boats in France but how can I cruise through Bordeaux with just my family?” The tour company might well suggest a luxury barge trip on a vessel complete with your own private chef, then make all the arrangements so that all you have to do is show up.
Whatever kind of private guided tour you choose – an African safari, a cook’s tour of Tuscany, a trek through the Himalayas, or perhaps that barge trip through Bordeaux -- your guide will be, for the most part, at your beck and call. But you may well choose to let your guide lead the way, to take best advantage of his or her expertise. Either way, the service should be tailored to your wants and needs.
Regular guided group tours – where most participants typically don’t know each other before the trip – can be a wonderful way to make new friends, and are often very budget-friendly. A possible downside, though, is that you generally won’t have any control over who you’re traveling with, exactly where you’re going and when, at what pace you’re traveling, or, in many cases, the size of the group.
With private guided tours, on the other hand, you get all the benefits of regular guided group tours – not having to wrestle with logistics or hassle with transportation, gaining the insights and access that good local guides can provide, knowing what the total trip will cost in advance, and more -– with none of the potential drawbacks. It all adds up to more flexibility for you and, if you’re not going solo, your own small group of friends or family.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
In some parts of the world, guides are expected to eat separately from the tour group, so if you’d like to invite your private guide to dine with you, ask politely -- but don’t be offended if he or she has to decline.
Even with family members and groups of friends, disagreements can erupt while traveling. Try to work out any potential problem areas before you start your trip, because to take best advantage of a private guided tour, you won’t want to give your guide constantly conflicting signals.
Private guided tours can be ideal for family travel, since children can be themselves and guides can tailor activities to them and give them more individual attention than in a larger group tour.
Private guided tours are also good for specialty travel, such as birding trips, photo tours, or wine tasting expeditions in which you have intense interest in one activity and want to spend the bulk of your time on it.